Canadians Couldn’t Ask For More
Begun in the wake of tragedy and conducted through a fortnight of lousy weather for winter sports, the XXII Winter Olympics concluded on a rousing note of golden heroics for the host Canadians.
So went these warm, Vancouver games, during which mistakes and bad excuses marred an otherwise wonderful few days for our friendly neighbors to the north.
All Canadians will forever remember Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal that beat the United States, 3-2, in the men’s hockey gold medal game a week ago today. What a way to bring down the curtain on these third Olympic games to be held in Canada and the most successful Winter Olympics for Canada, which led all countries with 14 gold medals.
That may have been the best played hockey game of importance in the history of the sport. Both teams were superb.
Even though the United States garnered 37 medals overall to set a Winter Olympics record, we should not begrudge the Canadians, who really won these Olympic Games by grabbing four more gold medals than its nearest rival, Germany, which had 10. The USA got nine gold medals to tie Norway. We also took 15 silver and 13 bronze medals, as we led in both runner-up silver and third-place bronze.
Even though the Olympics and horse shoes are where you get credit for being close, I do not have the feeling that the USA “won” the 2010 Winter Olympics. Since these Canadians are such fine friends of ours, I for one will not claim a USA triumph. When you compete, it should be to win.
Was our men’s hockey team elated about taking the silver medal? Absolutely not. Just look at Ryan Miller kneeling face down on the ice in total dejection when Crosby’s shot sent the puck by him. Miller was a magnificent USA goalie throughout the Olympics. You play to win the gold, and Miller was despondent.
Canada can be equally proud of its women’s hockey team that also beat us for the gold medal.
Yet there was one bronze medal performance that stands out for being as heroic an effort as any single gold medal feat in Vancouver. This was the third-place finish in women’s figure skating by Canada’s Joannie Rochette.
Two days before Rochette went through the short program that is the first of the two figure skating exercises, her mother, who was with her daughter in Vancouver, suffered a heart attack and died. The spunky, young athlete, cheered on wildly by Canadian fans as well as all others present, did the best of her career tearfully, athletically and with telling grace.
That was the first of the two most heroic gold medal achievements at the games — both by Canada.
It was truly a two-week success story for Canadians who did not win a single gold medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal or the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, the two previous Olympics in Canada.
But these games will also be remembered for the death of the young luge racer, Nodar Kumaritashvili, from the Republic of Georgia. He was killed Friday, Feb. 12, two days before the games’ opening ceremony.
During a practice run, Kumaritashvili was thrown high off his sled rounding a turn on the treacherous luge and bobsled track while going about 90 mph. He slammed head first into a steel girder supporting the track wall and died of the impact.
Olympic officials had been warned for weeks by some luge athletes that this new track was too dangerous. During the games, two prominent European bobsled helmsmen withdrew their sleds from competition because of the dangers inherent to this track.
Olympic officials, in their typical head-in-sand attitude, blamed the fatality upon “the youth and inexperience” of Kumaritashvili. Yet a day later, these officials shortened the runs on the luge track for both men and women. Typical Olympic committee hypocrisy.
A number of other gaffes hampered these games.
First came the failure of hydraulics when three of the long arms supporting the Olympic cauldron and its flame rose from the ground as planned while the fourth was stuck and failed to move on schedule.
Then there was a major foul at the start of the biathlon races, when some competitors were sent off too early or too late.
Another major snafu occurred when poorly conditioned ice forced a halt in some speed skating races. The extra long delay when racers were all primed to compete was not very fair since some racers had already done their times.
Millions of dollars worth of tickets for snowboarding events had to be refunded because warm rains and bad weather made a muddy mess of the spectator hillside where fans stand to watch. The area became too dangerous to allow people onto it.
To the USA’s credit, we made a killing in the rather recent sports additions to the Winter Olympics.
There are a total of 35 medal events that have been added to Winter Olympics since those Calgary games in 1988. These include competitions in curling, freestyle skiing, snowboarding, short track speed skating and many more.
The USA’s young athletes won 20 of their record 37 medals in these recent additions to Winter Olympics. Canada won four of its 14 gold medals in these new sports.
Had these sports not been added since 1988, the USA would have finished second in total medals with 17 to Germany’s 20.
The single performance that came closest to being perfect was turned in by the Korean figure skater, Yu-Na Kim. Her two programs, and particularly the second or long program, were things of beauty. She was more elegant on ice than any figure skater I can remember. She was virtually flawless in a sport where judges nitpick any performance to death. The result was the highest score posted under the new system of scoring.
Thus, we have many memories of Vancouver and Canada to hold for a lifetime.
We who live in the United States are very fortunate for all the reasons that make this the greatest nation on Earth. But there is one other blessing we have that is rarely, if ever, mentioned. And that is our relationship with those wonderful people living just across our northern border.
Nowhere else in the world is there such a long and peaceful border separating two friendly neighbors as with Canada and the United States.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His e-mail is email@example.com
More like this story